So how long does it take to draft your estate plan?

This is one of the most common questions I get when someone comes to my office:

How long is this whole process going to take?

When we look at an estate plan, there are going to be three main time periods we deal with:

  1. How long it takes to draft the document,
  2. How long it takes to actually sign the document, and
  3. How long until you actually need a new one.

The documents in your estate plan start with your will, but they're also going to include your healthcare power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, a durable power of attorney and guardianship forms (if you have children who are under the age of 18).

Now everybody's estate plan will be different. You may not need all of those documents for your estate plan, but that's a good guide for the main documents you're going to encounter. And if you do more advanced estate planning, you may want to add a trust to that list of documents. 

How Long Does it Take to Draft the Documents?

The first time period we're dealing with is how long is it going to take to get your documents drafted? Some people will take years. I have clients who from two and a half years ago still haven't signed documents. Some people can have it done in hours. If you have a really basic will, a really basic estate plan, maybe you're heading out the next day on vacation and you just want to make sure you have something in place before you leave. You could probably even get it done pretty quickly. But most people will be somewhere in the few weeks to a month range when it comes to how long it takes. Now again, if we're doing very advanced planning, maybe an irrevocable trust or an advanced trust, or we're using LLCs to do some planning, that's going to take longer because we have more documents to draft. But what you should know about these time periods is it's really going to be in your hands as to how long it takes. When you're working with an attorney to create an estate plan, the bottleneck we usually run into is how long it takes you to get me the information I need to prepare your documents. So if you're on top of things and you get the documents and you get the information over to your attorney quickly, you can have your state plan drafted pretty quickly as well.

How Long Does it Take to Sign the Documents?

The second time period people ask about is the signing ceremony. How long does it take to sign my estate plan? Now once again, it's going to depend upon what documents we're using. But assuming you're just doing your basic set of documents, even the five we talked about before and throwing in a trust. It really only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to sign the actual documents. One of the things that can take time is finding a time when your witnesses can be in the room. We usually want 2 witnesses and we don't want them to be people that are involved in the documents.

Depending upon the documents are signing, you may also need a notary public. Once the documents are signed, it may take a little more time for your attorney to sit with you and get the documents into a final format. Working with my office we create a checklist for all the documents that are in your plan and we have an estate planning wallet that will have all of your information put into it. It's actually like a bank bag that you can zip and unzip, to keep your documents in it. So after we're done signing the documents, we just need to get everything in the right place and get you out the door. So you should really budget about half an hour so if you're going to sign your estate plan documents.

How Long Does an Estate Plan Last?

The final time period we're looking at is: How long until I need a new estate plan? So the first thing you should know is when you draft an estate plan, it's normally for a lifetime. So if you don't ever update it, let's say it's from 35 years ago, it is still valid if that's the last will that you created. Now the reality is most people aren't going to wait 35 years to update their estate plan. In fact, what they're going to do is when you run into major life events like a divorce, a marriage, you have kids or you have grandkids, it's a great time to check in with your estate planning attorney to make sure that your documents reflect what you want to happen. Especially in the case of kids and grandkids, that's going to really alter what you want to do with your estate plan. If they're your children, and they're under the age of 18, you want to make sure we have a guardian set up for them and a trustee to manage their money. Now if you don't have any life events, if it's just a nice quiet life is rolling along, no kids, no major changes, we still recommend that every three years you check in with an attorney. Just go over what's in your documents and make sure they reflect what's needed for you at that time.

Next Steps

Work with your estate planning attorney, talk to your financial advisor when you do that yearly review. Make sure they're looking at your estate plan and looking at the accounts you have under management and you've got the right estate plan in place for it. If you need help and you want to get started on an estate plan, you can set up a Legal Strategy Session, we'll talk for about 15 to 20 minutes and go over what you know about the process what your goals are and give you some good next steps you can take to create that estate plan.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.